'Step', whole body percussion, draws on a variety of dance traditions. Like rap music it takes bits and pieces and makes something new. When it works, it's at once fresh and familiar, and when it doesn't it's obvious that it's inherently derivative. Sadly, despite a brave effort, How She Move is the latter.

Filmed in Canada and originally set there, the film has been aggressively deregionalised after MTV films picked it up at Sundance. They've found more money to update the dance sequences, which are impressive to watch, but they've done nothing to improve the script which feels as if it has been lifted wholesale from an after school special.

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The film is a showcase for new Canadian talent. Rutina Wesley makes her debut as Raya Green. In a somewhat leaden expository voiceover we learn that she's an achiever, focused on becoming a doctor, getting out of the old neighbourhood. She's forced out of her prestigious private school by economic hardship: her dead sister's drug habit means her parents can no longer afford the fees.

Raya is not the only one with difficulties. Those she left behind are aware that she has made a choice to leave them. As a sermon on responsible personal development it's got every cliche covered. There's sibling rivalry, marital discord, parental grief, domestic jealousy, struggling businessmen, commercial exploitation of a subculture, even minor celebrities appearing as themselves. There's a single use of strong language by the villain (Clé Bennett), generic urban grime with some mild language and drug use, but no real violence. Conflicts are settled with step, which does rather stretch suspension of disbelief.

Raya's hopes end up pinned to a step competition, and in the preparation and competition itself the effort of the cast is apparent. As intermittent rival and confident Michelle, Tre Armstrong was presumably able to draw on her experience from Save The Last Dance 2 and Shall We Dance. As the bookish Quake, Brennan Gademans' enthusiasm is infectious, and as his older brother Bishop Dwain Murphy convinces as he deals with the pressures of life, business, and step.

A film debut for scriptwriter Annmarie Morais, it's a second feature for director Ian Iqbal Rashid. He can put a film together, it's clear, but how much input he had over the final film is uncertain. Before it was picked up by MTV films there were two production companies involved, but on top of those a further 14 bodies had influence in getting it funded and made.

The soundtrack received a major refit courtesy of MTV's money and connections, but to be blunt even after that most of the acts are still off mainstream radar. It sounds right, but that doesn't mean it is right.

Unlike in Brick, which used archaic teen lingo to subvert, there's a risk of the slang and cultural references becoming dated here. When combined with the filing of serial numbers that turns Toronto yet again into an anonymous North American metropolis, it feels a little weak. These are earnest cliches wandering around in a generic environment.

While the dance events are exciting, they're clearly well rehearsed, well practised, familiar to the performers. Sadly for those involved, everything else is as familiar to the audience.

Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2008
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How She Move packshot
A troubled teenager tries to prove herself through dance.
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Sundance 2007

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If you like this, try:

Bring It On
Save The Last Dance
Step Up